Good Reads!

Reading is one of my great life passions.   It is a thrill to become totally immersed in a good book.  As a member of two monthly book clubs, I enjoy most things I read, but each year come away with only a few books that I can say I truly loved.  Below are the six I read in 2011 that I could not put down, and a couple that I’ve picked up in 2012 that are already on my favorite books list.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese; Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.  Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.


 The Forgotten Garden  by Kate Morton; A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay; Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door to door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard—their secret hiding place—and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.



Room by Emma Donoghue; To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.


 Little Bee by Chris Cleave;  This novel explains the intertwined fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple–journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday–who should have stayed behind their resort’s walls. What happens on a Nigerian beach brings her into their world and forever alters the course of their lives.



Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; The story is that of Louie Zamperini – a track and field star of the 1930’s, who participated in the Berlin olympics, was part of the US air force in WWII, was shot down over the ocean, was adrift in the Pacific for over a month, was held as a POW by the Japanese forces and finally made it back to his life and has had the courage to live it to its fullest.



Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford; Great to read after the above book, Unbroken, because it gives an entirely different perspective during the same time period in history. Chronicling the relationship between two 12 yr. olds, a Chinese boy, and Japanese girl in San Francisco in the early 1940’s. It provides a brief glimpse into what each culture had to face as American Immigrants in a bitter-sweet tale.



Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, The Man Who Would Cure The World  by Tracy Kidder; Compelling and inspiring, Paul Farmer sets out on his mission to cure infectious diseases, and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. From Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia, Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.


I cannot wait to delve into the next books that are lining up for 2012, and anticipate finding new favorites among them.  The Tiger’s Wife, The Paris Wife, and Freedom are a few on my list. What is on your list? Please share your recent favorites.  Did you find any that you loved?


This Year’s 5 Best Book Club Books

I am in two different book clubs, so I try to finish two books a month.  Some months are harder to keep up with than others, but I try my best.  When a book really sucks me in, I can finish it quickly.  Here are the five books that I found to be interesting, easy, and fast reads (mainly because I loved them and found them highly entertaining).

Book #1:  The Hunger Games by, Suzanne Collins

This book was great!  It was fast moving, and easy to read.  I liked the futuristic setting and developing romance between characters.  If you are queasy reading about violence, then this book may not be for you.  It’s not gory, but there is violence.  I have also read the other two books in this series (Catching Fire and Mockingjay).  I loved them all!  These books are in the young adult section, but adults seem to love them too (like the Twilight or Harry Potter series).

Book #2:  Shanghai Girls by, Lisa See

This book was really good.  The characters were very complex.  I loved reading about the Asian culture and what was going on in Shanghai.  It shows the relationship between two sisters, their escape to America, and their life after making it to California with their “paper husbands.”  It was very educational, entertaining, and emotional.  I heard Lisa See’s book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is also wonderful.  It’s on my “to read” list.

Book #3:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book also was very educational as well as entertaining.  It takes place in the Guernsey Islands during the war when the Nazi’s where invading.  The character interaction is interesting, and the idea that the book club they spontaneously created “saved” them was fantastic.  There was so much to the story line, and after just a few chapters I couldn’t put it down.

Book #4:  Loving Frank by, Nancy Horan

This book based on the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright was highly fascinating.  Again, it is historical in nature.  It’s a love story, and follows his relationship with mate (Mamah Borthwick Cheney) through many trials and tribulations.  The end is quite shocking (historically accurate), so don’t make the mistake of Googling the real story before you finish the book if you don’t already know it.  I made that mistake and wish I hadn’t.  I got too wrapped up in the story I wanted to know everything about the characters, but I wish I had not read that part before I finished the book.

Book #5:  Bitter is the New Black:  Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by, Jen Lancaster

This book is completely different than the others I liked.  It is really light and comedic.  I was laughing the entire time, and I could relate to many of the situations the author, Jen Lancaster, went through.  It is a quick and fun read.  She has many other books out as well that are on my list.  I think the reality TV book looks good (My Fair Lazy).  It’s one I think I will be able to relate to, as I am a reality TV show junkie.


* What are your favorite books?  I am also working on my 5 favorite books of all time (which is very difficult to do, as I love so many!).

Kristin Wheeler

Reading: Good for Your Social Life and Good for Your Kids

Before having children I was an avid reader – and why not? I had lots of unstructured time with which to do what I pleased. When I was single in NYC, there were long subway rides, lazy Sunday mornings in bed, and quiet moments after dinner to while away in the pursuit of a good read. One marriage and four kids later, those days are a distant memory. In fact, we gave up our Sunday New York Times subscription last year because the guilt of not reading it outweighed the sadness of cancelling it. The stacks of New Yorkers around the house, most of which I merely scan, or worse, restack, are enough of a reminder of the time “we used to have” for reading.

I haven’t completely given up on staying abreast of current events, though. In place of the NYT we now subscribe to The Week magazine. This terrific compendium of newsworthy events from around the globe has become a family favorite. It arrives weekly with the most perfectly digestible amounts of information and opinion. Since we made this switch, the most wonderful thing has happened – our kids read it. They also read The New Yorker. It must have something to do with the magazine’s prominent placement in the main loo, but never mind that, they read it and discuss it with us, and that is grand.In fact, when it arrives we all scramble to see who can get a hold of it first. I must say, it’s a hoot to hear my 10 year old recount a strange fact he read that day in an adult conversational style at dinner – a vast improvement over the usual scatological drivel the group can stoop to.

The sad truth is, that when I finally get the four kids to bed, I’m often so zonked, that reading acts like a soporific and puts me right to sleep.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated, not to mention nervous, about the growing tower of books leaning over my head as I slept, many of them with bookmarks in just the first few chapters. I needed a push, and lo and behold, along came the answer: Book Club. This has been a reading lifesaver. Were it not for the incentive that the next meeting date provides, I might never finish a book! There’s something about knowing that if you don’t finish, then you really shouldn’t go to Book Club where you’ll eventually hear the ending of the book discussed. By not attending you would avoid that, but you would also miss out on the company of friends, good wine and yummy food. That’s just unacceptable in my book (ha!). I look so forward to my time with my friends, that to miss any is unthinkable. So, I try to read the book no matter what it takes. Sometimes I sit in the hostess’ driveway until I do. I’ve also seen fellow Book Club pals reading in a wingback in the corner while the social portion is underway, or one time at a school meeting beforehand. Many of us treat it like a requirement for participation (it’s not), and as a result of our determination, we are rewarded by lively discussions and great camaraderie.

Recently, one of my pals from our ‘Reading Between the Wines’ Book Club informed us of a study that was conducted by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development which states, “a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.”

My eldest

Well, that right there is motivation enough for me! If I can revel in friendship and accomplishment while also improving my child’s chances of scholastic success, then I am more than happy – I’m successful. Maureen wrote here at AMKB about pursuing passion, as did Carla. In my life now, my marriage, my kids, and my friends are my passions, and books are hot on their heels. Through a few adjustments to what I read and how I read, I have been able to keep up with current events and great novels, while deepening my friendships and benefiting my children. A win-win I’d say.

My Chinese fortune cookie the other night said, “The world is a beautiful book for those who read it.”  Yes, so true.

I’d love to hear your stories of book clubs and about any great books you’ve read.

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